Today was my third day in Haifa, fourth day in Israel (not counting the afternoon I arrived). I spent Shabbat – my first full day – with an old friend in a small community in the Galilee. Since then, I’ve been in Haifa doing interviews for this Technion book with the main author, professor Shlomo Maital.
Our schedule has been really full, about three interviews each day. That’s fine for the first day or two – but then at a certain point, all the interviews start to collide in your head like an I-5 pile-up and you can’t remember whom you saw when. Given my general overload, the best I can do right now is share some random impressions from my first visit here in 26 years:
- Distances are SOOO small. I knew this, but it hits home again. Haifa is basically an hour’s drive from Tel Aviv. Those are two of the three biggest cities in the country. Imagine L.A. being an hour’s drive from New York…. I spoke to several Technion students who commute every day from Tel Aviv to Haifa. I don’t think that happened so much when I lived here in 1985, partly because….
- The infrastructure has improved! Well, duh, if it hadn’t improved in 26 years, that would signal a major problem. But the roads here now have fewer potholes than at home in Oakland. There is a sleek, spacious automative tunnel under the city of Haifa that makes the Caldecott feel like a 19thcentury coal mine. And there is now train service! There are frequent trains from Haifa to Tel Aviv, and further up and down the coast – real trains, not light rail. Soldiers don’t hitch anymore; they take the train back from their weekend furloughs on Monday morning. We took the train to a Tel Aviv interview on Sunday and it was super easy – 50 minutes on the train, then a five-minute cab ride. Sad to say – train service in this little resource-strapped country is faster and more frequent than between the Bay Area and Sacramento.
- The Wall. Nothing illuminating to say here, just the shock that comes when seeing an abstract political issue made real. My cab ride from the airport to my friend Nomi’s house went north along Highway 6, a new-ish major road that in sections paralleled the wall that was built several years ago separating the West Bank from pre-1967 Israel. There has been so much controversy over the wall, and it is such a symbol of the unresolved conflict and the limbo in which the Palestinains live. And there it was, no longer some abstract phrase in a news story, but a thin metal fence with a bit of wire on top. Not very big. Not very permanent. But suddenly real.
- The cats. Feral cats everywhere! Feral mom cat with three kittens making a home on Nomi’s porch. Feral cats mewing pitifully outside my window here at Shlomo’s house. I miss my Bowie! Clearly, once Israel has resolved those pesky minor issues involving peace, minority rights, religious pluralism etc., it is ripe for a major crusade to spay/neuter its cat population. Maybe I should start raising money right now….
I do have some less trivial thoughts and impressions – on the Technion, and on the population bomb you haven’t heard about — but those will have to wait a day or two.
Meow, and good night.